River Hill senior Jen Green spent the summer playing with many of Mount Hebron's girls' lacrosse players, so she knows she can hang with them.
So did Centennial senior Kelly Renzi, Hammond senior Kelly Berger and Green's teammate at River Hill, Brittany Friedrich.
But when the high school season arrives, the problem when playing Mount Hebron, Green said, is numbers.
"They have so many good players feeding into their school it makes a huge difference," Green said. "If we have 12 people that can play the game at a high level, they have their whole team. They could put their second team in against us, which is frustrating."
Entering the season, the Vikings had won 99 straight county games, a streak that dates from 1990. They've won a dozen straight county titles and six straight state titles.
And so many teams judge their success by how they handle the juggernaut from the north.
"The real county race is not for the county championship. We hand that over," Hammond Coach Emily Petrlik said. "We joke about that, but there is a seriousness to that, too. We are coaches, and we are competitive. We don't like to just hand stuff over, but we are realistic. We know what the kids are up against. There is a difference there."
Glenelg has won second place in the county for three years and had the distinction of holding Mount Hebron to the fewest goals last season (14). River Hill scored six goals against the Vikings last season, the most by any county team.
"We got excited last season when they called timeout in the first half," said River Hill Coach Mike Senisi, whose team trailed only 5-3 at one point. "They were freaking out. The little things you get excited about. I don't get disheartened because we want to be the best we can be."
At least 10 Mount Hebron players will play in college next season, and most of them are products of a highly organized feeder system that grooms players for the Vikings' system. By the time players get to high school, they are well versed in stick skills and lacrosse know-how, and often ready to contribute.
"The structure of Hebron lacrosse is so extensive all the way down to the very youngest players in the youngest leagues," Glenelg Coach Ginger Kincaid said. "Until schools are willing to do that much to be at that level, I don't think that gap is going to narrow."
The gap is especially noticeable in Columbia, which has a rich tradition of soccer and not necessarily girls' lacrosse. The six Columbia schools finished at the bottom of the standings last season. None scored more than a goal against Mount Hebron.
"There is soccer everywhere in Columbia," Atholton Coach Beth Mazanec said. "We would love to see that be lacrosse. We would love to see every team get up to the level."
Green, Renzi and Berger -- players who have thrived outside of Mount Hebron and will play Division I lacrosse -- are evidence the divide is closing slightly, said Centennial Coach Katie Marks, a 1995 graduate of Mount Hebron.
And she credits Mount Hebron with raising the bar.
"The programs in the county are getting stronger trying to meet that standard," she said. "Although what is happening is Mount Hebron has girls that are playing for a very long time, and their feeder programs are a lot stronger than everyone else's, so it's a slow road to catching up."
Mount Hebron Coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland said the county is making progress.
"The Centennials, the Glenelgs, the River Hills, I don't think they are threatened by having to play us," she said. "Club lacrosse has totally taken girls to another level. There are a lot more girls playing, which offers a lot more competitive experience for our team and their teams."
Meantime, many coaches believe they still have to stand in against the Vikings and take their punches, no matter the result.
"Some teams shy away from them, but we go head-to-head and try our best," Senisi said. "They are a powerhouse, but I think we look forward to it. It raises our game up. We want to play the best, and you don't get much better than them."
Teams often find that out when they travel out of the county to play teams, even at the state level.
"We talk more about states than we do counties," Renzi said.
Because the Eagles are in Class 2A/1A, they would not have to play Mount Hebron in the postseason and could become the first team besides the Vikings to win a state championship. County teams have made the state semifinals six times, including Centennial in 1990 -- but none has won a state title.
"I guess it just more realistic, and I really think we can go that far this season," Renzi said.